Council approves expending $2.3 million in ARP funds for nine infrastructure projects

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon City Council recently voted to utilize its American Rescue Plan funds to complete nine infrastructure improvement projects, even if that means spending some of their own money.

The City of Buckhannon is receiving nearly $2.4 million in ARP money from the federal government – $2,382,905.27, to be exact.

At its council meeting June 3, council unanimously approved proceeding with all nine water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer projects, which would cost about $2.68 million in total. And since the city is taking in only $2.38 million in ARP funds, it may have to make up a shortfall of approximately $315,000.

However, city officials said they plan to approach the Upshur County Commission about partnering with them on one major infrastructure enhancement – rehabilitation of the interior of the Tennerton Water Storage Tank and the associated rental of several pressurized tanker trucks – since the majority of residents served by the tank are Adrian Public Service District customers.

The discussion at the June 3 meeting got underway with Buckhannon mayor Robbie Skinner explaining that the city can only expend ARP funds for approved purposes, one of which is to upgrade basic infrastructure, such as water and sewer utilities.

“As we’ve previously discussed at other council meetings, these funds are specifically earmarked for the city to use for improvement projects that are relative to water and sewer – infrastructure projects,” Skinner said.

Following a special meeting of the city’s Water and Sanitary Sewer Boards May 27, supervisors in the Water and Sanitary departments recommended the ARP money fund nine projects.

City engineer Jay Hollen explained that the proposed projects would encompass two sanitary sewer projects (a Taylor Street upgrade and a North Locust Street upgrade) and one storm sewer project (a Taylor Street upgrade) for a total of about $1.27 million.

The remaining six water-related infrastructure projects would cost about $1.18 million and include: rehabilitation of the Tennerton Water Storage tank and the associated rental of pressurized tanker trucks; construction of Tennerton booster station building; purchase/installation of new chemical feeders at the Water Treatment Plant; purchase/installation of filter media at the Water Treatment Plant; purchase/installation of a new chlorine alarm; and replacement of some detection equipment at the raw water intake and the filter beds at the Water Treatment Plant, Hollen said.

Hollen then outlined three different financial scenarios the city could face.

First, if it solely funded all nine projects, city officials would need to make up a $315,000 difference from another funding source. Secondly, it could remove three of the nine projects – the North Locust Street sanitary sewer project upgrade on the Sanitary Department side and the chlorine alarm and replacement of the filter at the raw water intake/settled NTU detection units on the Water Department side. If those three items were struck from the list, Hollen said, council would only overrun the ARP funds by about $5,000.

“That brought that budget down to where we’re just $5,000 over, and I think that’s a number that we could more easily absorb,” Hollen said. “Out of the $2.4 million, we’d only have to expend $5,000.”

Hollen said a third option is to approach the county commission about sharing the cost of the Tennerton Water Storage Tank rehabilitation project.

“We also came up with an option where we would approach the county commission about sharing the cost on the water department’s Tennerton Water Storage Tank rehabilitation project,” Hollen said. “If we split that cost due to the location of the water storage tank and the number of customers [who are] city users and the number of customers [who are] users of the Adrian PSD, which falls under the auspices of the Upshur County Commission … if we split that cost, even 50/50 worst case, then that brings the budget in under by nearly $79,000.”

That means the city would have $78,361 remaining in ARP funds.

Councilwoman Pam Bucklew asked why the rental of a pressurized tanker truck, priced at about $85,000, was listed as a project. Hollen explained that it’s essentially part of the Tennerton Water Storage Tank rehabilitation project since that tank must be taken “offline” to accomplish the rehabilitation. While offline, three 42-foot pressurized tankers trucks filled with water would have to be utilized to simulate the tank.

“We would have to take the Tennerton Water Storage Tank offline to do the rehabilitation project,” he said. “The tank provides fire protecting to the high school, and so if we take the tank offline, we have to offer fire protection still… so it’s to simulate the tank that’s taken offline. We did that last year with the Deer Creek water storage tank in the Deer Creek neighborhood, and nobody knows the difference.”

Hollen’s calculations showed that if the city and county split the cost of the water tank rehabilitation and pressurized tanker truck rental, each would have to pay about $358,000 as opposed to the city paying $716,000 by itself.

“We want to approach the commission and explain our reasoning and our side of the story as to why splitting the Tennerton Water Storage Tank project would benefit not only us … but also them,” Hollen said.

Councilman David Thomas asked Hollen about the ratio of city users to Adrian PSD users who are served by the tank.

“About 10 percent of the city customers make use of the Tennerton Water Storage tank and that includes the high school, the State Police – basically everything from Stony Run Road south to the Adrian (PSD) master meter put just past the State Police barracks, so it’s a 90/10 split,” Hollen said.

Thomas said the proposal seemed “advantageous to the county,” and Hollen replied that it would benefit both parties.

City recorder Randy Sanders said he’d spoken with two of the three county commissioners.

“They’re open to listening to our proposal,” Sanders said. “They still have not determined exactly how they’re going to be spending their [ARP] funds, and that’s their business – we’ll let them work on that.”

Sanders said the next step is to put the proposal in writing and ask to appear on the agenda at an upcoming commission meeting to request assistance.

Councilman CJ Rylands said he supported undertaking the nine projects in the original proposal – i.e., completing all nine instead of eliminating three projects.

“I would support the highest one – the $2.6 million-dollar one, which is going to require us to come up with $315,000 and then if the county does participate, it would be for just about the same amount of overrun and we’d be balanced then,” Rylands said. “If not, then we would have to come up with [the funds]. This is the kind of thing it’s worth spending money on.”

Rylands made a motion to accept the $2.68 million-dollar proposal with the caveats that the city could potentially have to find the $315,000 but would also to try to work with the county commission so the city’s cost could be reduced. Sanders seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

Council also unanimously approved authorizing Skinner to sign off on all required documents necessary to receive the ARP funds. In addition, council passed a motion authorizing city finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins to open a special checking account at Citizens Bank of West Virginia with $500 specifically for ARP funds, since all expenditures must be accounted for.

“We do not have the money yet, but the money will be coming, and we need to have an account for the money to drop into,” Skinner said.

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